A 30-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service says the area is notorious for its role.

“Kenora-Rainy River has always been known as the Gateway of Contraband Tobacco to western provinces in the law enforcement community combatting contraband tobacco. All of the illegal cigarettes seized in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are driven through the area and are usually sourced from southwestern Ontario,” said Ron Bell in a media release.

Seizures on April 30, May 10, May 16, May 26 and June 3 seized over $1.3 million worth of illegal cigarettes heading to Manitoba and other western provinces. The majority, if not all, of the illegal product is sourced from southwestern Ontario.

“Organized crime groups are making millions of dollars off contraband tobacco, which they use for other illicit trades, such as the distribution and sale of illegal cannabis, cocaine and human trafficking. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic these groups continue to transport and sell their illegal products from Ontario across Canada," Bell added, as he urged MPP Greg Rickford to take more decisive action on the issue.

The average market share of contraband tobacco in some parts of northern Ontario rise to 60 or 70 per cent, compared with the provincial estimate of about 33 per cent. The Government of Ontario’s Ernst and Yount Report commissioned in the fall of 2018 found that the government is losing over $750 million in province excise tax to the illicit trade, combined with the federal excise tax losses, the total is over $1 billion.

“Ontario continues to be the epicentre of Canada’s contraband tobacco problem," Bell continued.

"With one in three cigarettes sold being illegal and the government losing over $750 million in provincial excise tax, it is clear that organized crime groups continue to act with near impunity. This is having a real impact on every Canadian province, from Newfoundland to Alberta.” Bell noted.

According to the provincial government, Illegal tobacco undermines public health and safety by:

  • supporting organized crimegiving people — especially young people — easier access to cigarettes
  • taking millions of tax dollars away from public services, like education and health care
  • creating a fire hazard — because some illegal cigarettes lack self-extinguishing features
  • hurting local businesses that follow the law
  • Consequences of having illegal tobacco

If you’re convicted of possessing illegal tobacco, you may be fined three times the tax on the value of the illegal cigarettes you possess, plus:

  • $100 if you have 200 unmarked cigarettes or fewer
  • $250 if you have from 201 to 1,000 unmarked cigarettes
  • $500 if you have from 1,001 to 10,000 unmarked cigarettes
  • $500 to $10,000 if you have more than 10,000 unmarked cigarettes, and
  • your car may be impounded

For more information:

OPP seize more illegal cigarettes